Monday, January 30, 2006

ITunesU -- A great idea

You know I love my IPod. I've talked about that often enough here.

But as a communications consultant, I'm always looking for ways that new media can help businesses. So far, I haven't had a lot of luck convincing companies that podcasts are something that they can turn to their advantage. But the business reasons for including tools like blogs and podcasts in your communications toolkit are slowly piling up.

Now, here's another cool tool.

Introducing ITunesU. Apple has unveiled this specialized version of its popular ITunes online music store that universities can sign up for. It gives them all the tools they need to create their own online content.

Here's a blurb:
iTunes U* is a free, hosted service for colleges and universities that provides easy access to your educational content, including lectures and interviews 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

It’s the most powerful way to manage a broad range of audio or video content and make it available quickly and easily to students, faculty, and staff. And it is the only application that supports the overwhelmingly popular iPod. iTunes U also offers you the simplicity and mobility you expect from Apple because it is based on the same easy-to-use technology of iTunes Music Store.
While this service is aimed at universities, it's easy to imagine that large companies would be interested in adapting this technology to their own in-house communication activities. They could deliver all kinds of audio and video content right to employees.

There are a lot of opportunities here and I expect we'll see this kind of application leaping into the commercial area. The revolution continues...

Saturday, January 28, 2006

The Sony Root Kit story continues

The other day, someone I worked with confessed that they didn't really understand the whole Sony root kit issue but they were pretty sure it wasn't all that significant.

I was a bit taken aback, because that person is pretty plugged into the whole Internet music scene and I thought they knew the story. But I began to think that they probably weren't all that different from a lot of others. Heck, I just realized that I haven't written about it before either, even though it was a huge story before Christmas.

This issue is significant, in large part because the insidious nature of the original problem will continue to be a problem for a long, long time to come, since so many people probably aren't even aware of it.

This story from Cory Doctorow over on Boing Boing links you to a larger on-going research piece that is looking at the potential fall-out from the Sony DRM issue. For example, what will happen if someone puts one of those infected Sony music CDs into their computer in 20 years? Will the program still try to load into the computer? And what will it do? If you're interested in some of the larger implications of the stuff that we take for granted every day, you might want to read this.
(Sony taproot graphic courtesy of Sevensheaven)

In a similar vein, Steve Outing, writing in the Poynter E-media tidbits blog, tells us about a speech that Dan Gilmour, of Citizen Journalism fame, gave at Harvard. It looked at some of the implications of what will happen down the road when the kids of today (who are all on-line, saying the most outrageous things on their blogs and websites) move into leadership positions?
(Listen to Gillmor's speech.)

Are we (via our media) going to hold them to account for the things they said when they were teenagers? How well would any of us stand up if everything we'd done as teenagers were held up to the harsh glare of contemporary scrutiny?

Outing and Gillmor suggest we'll need some kind of agreed-upon privacy zone, where we are allowed to keep some things away from public debate. But will it happen?

Friday, January 27, 2006

A phrase that takes off

"Gravity. It isn't just a good idea. It's the Law."

If that phrase sounds familiar, it might be because you've seen the Gravity Poster, which features it.

It's sort of a cult item and the guy that created it, Gerry Mooney, has set up a really neat page that tracks The History of the Gravity Poster.

It's interesting to see the progress of the phrase, which Mooney originally coined in 1977, through the years. As I pointed out a couple of days ago, tools like Google make it easier for us to track down references to things like a particular phrase.

It's an interesting story. And it's cool that Mooney has put the story into a format that anyone can follow. But the brilliance of what he's done is how he then links back to the original Gravity Poster. I bet he ends up selling a lot more of them, thanks to his little story.

It's a nice use of the Internet and it's something that has no real counterpart in the non-Web world. What do you think?

-Thanks to Seth Grodin for the link

Here's a band that gets the Web

bill is a band that understands the power of the Internet.

Specifically, they've realized the amazing benefits that podcasting has brought to independent music.

Their song Sound Scientist took off in a big way when podcasters started playing it on their shows. But the band hadn't even finished its first CD yet, so fans who wanted more were left wanting.

Well, this week, bill (all lowercase, by the way) is running a special Podcast Payback. For one week (I think the offer ends in a couple of days) they're offering free downloads of their new album to anyone who visits the band's website.

It's a brilliant bit of marketing and I'm sure it's going to pay off big time for the band. I've downloaded the album and I really like it. I know my good friend, the late Richard Lawton, would have loved this, because they feature a clarinet on a couple of tracks. Richard always argued the clarinet was the most under-rated instrument in modern music.

But don't take my word for it. Visit the site for yourself and download the album. And if you like it, you can still send the artists a few bucks. I know they won't mind.

I predict we'll see lots more of these marketing ideas coming up as the Podosphere matures.

What if Canada had proportional representation?

In the wake of Canadians electing another minority government, there hasn't been as much talk recently about our "first past the post" electoral system.

That's probably because the current system seemed to work this time, at least in terms of kicking out the Liberals, but not giving the Tories an unlimited mandate.

But what if we had proportional representation?

If you're interested, you might want to check out They've looked at the results from Monday night and figured out what our electoral map would look like if we had proportioned the seats to the percentage of popular vote. It's interesting to look at the winners and the losers in that kind of a system.

Of course, if we really had PR, we might have voted differently.

There are still several provinces considering some form of PR. But in the last year, BC and PEI voters voted against the proposals in referendums. So it looks like the future of this initiative is in question.

There are those who think that the biggest obstacle to the acceptance of PR is that those who benefit the most from the status quo (the elected politicians) are the ones who will have to make changes. And so far, that hasn't happened.

This could be an interesting year. In the meantime, read some of the stuff on and make up your own mind.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

What is Crossing the Rubicon anyway?

Have you ever used or heard someone else use a phrase, like the one that titles this piece then realized you have no idea what it really means? Well, maybe we sort of, kind of, know what it means.

I heard a commentator say something to the effect that Paul Martin was going to have to "cross his own Rubicon" soon. I think it was in the context of his decision to step down as leader, but this was said during the election campaign itself.

I imagine that most of us understand what was meant. Martin, if he lost the election, was facing a significant decision that would likely affect the rest of his life, or something to that effect.

What I realized is that with things like Google around, I don't have to wonder what it means. I just type "Crossing the Rubicon" in the search box and there's the answer. Well, actually, there are 365,000 answers.

That's a bit much, so allow me to point you to one of the more interesting results. It's called Eyewitness to and it's #8 in Google's list. Here's the first two lines of the page it sent me to, called Julius Caesar Crosses the Rubicon, 49 BC:

The crossing of a small stream in northern Italy became one of ancient history's most pivotal events. From it sprang the Roman Empire and the genesis of modern European culture.

Cool. As you read on, you'll find that the whole site is based on the premise that some of the most interesting stories in history are best told by people who were there, or were close enough to hear about it. So the site gives you first-person (or near-first-person) accounts. It's a neat idea, and while I didn't read a lot of stuff, I think it's a first-rate resource to use when you've got to spice up something you're writing.

For example, we learn about the origins of "Crossing the Rubicon" through the tale told by this guy:

Suetonius was a Roman historian and biographer. He served briefly as secretary to Emperor Hadrian (some say he lost his position because he became too close to the emperor's wife.) His position gave him access to privileged imperial documents, correspondence and diaries upon which he based his accounts. For this reason, his descriptions are considered credible. We join Suetonius's narrative as Caesar receives the news that his allies in the Senate have been forced to leave Rome:

That's the way I like to use Google. Just put in something interesting and see where it takes you. Say, I wonder what comes up if I put in Down to the Short Strokes?

Oh. We'd best not talk about that one here. Some say it refers to golf, but I don't think that's the real origin of the phrase!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Post-election musings - the West got in.

So we have a Conservative minority. How about that?

As a former (and soon to be one again) Westerner, I feel good that Western Canada is finally getting to play in the main sandbox again. I was expecting a Tory minority, but I thought they would have more seats. Especially in BC.

The strength of the NDP vote will help to counterbalance any extreme tendencies in Parliament. While they're not quite the balance of power, they do form a significant party in a Parliament where getting things done is going to be a daily adventure.

But the biggest surprise for me is the Liberals' strength. I really thought they would end up with a lot less seats. But at 103, they are still a strong force and a significant opposition, despite their abysmal campaign. If they can hold on to 103 seats with a leader like Paul Martin running a campaign like he did, I wonder what will happen with a new leader? Much will depend on the performance of the Tories.

I think the Liberal party's rebirth could happen a lot quicker than anyone is predicting. An exciting leadership race, especially if there are some new faces in the mix, will drive a lot of those bad memories about Gomery, Martin, et al, into the background. And if the Tories stumble at all while the Liberals are making themselves look fresh and exciting, who knows how fast things could turn around? As John Manley put it on CBC last night (and of course, he could be one of those seeking the leadership) "We've seen things turn around pretty fast before," referring to Joe Clark's stunning loss in 1980.

While the change in government should be a good thing, given my previous musings about the necessity of shaking things up every so often, I'm worried about the Tories' lack of urban representation in the large cities.

Like it or not, there are three major urban centres in this country (Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver) and the Tories were all but shut out in them. The result is a fairly significant rural/urban split and it's going to be a challenge for Prime Minister-designate Stephen Harper. (Not long ago, I didn't think I'd ever hear that!)

Just how much is he really going to be able to accomplish, without any clear partners in Parliament? It's interesting to note that with 155 seats necessary for a majority, the Liberals (103), Bloc (51) and Independent (1) add up to 155. The Tories (124) and the NDP (39) fall just short of the magic 155 number.

What does that mean? I'm not sure. But with the Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc all less than enthusiastic about a couple of the Conservatives' biggest election planks (a GST cut and their daycare proposal) what are the chances of Harper pushing those things through? And if he doesn't, will that make him look less effective? Or smart for avoiding a potential mine-field?

I don't think that the Liberals or the Bloc will want an election soon. The Liberals are heading into recovery mode, as well as a leadership campaign. The Bloc, after being spooked by their inability to maintain their seat count and popular vote count, certainly don't want an election until after the next provincial election. (And I doubt that anyone else wants another election either.)

So we are looking at a relatively stable government, but whether they're actually going to be able to do much is an open question.

I don't have the answers, obviously, or even interesting predictions. Like a lot of people, I'm going to sit back and see what happens. But one thing jumped out at me last night. This is the first time the Prime Minister (and the Governor General, for that matter) have been younger than me. Now that's something to think about.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Using SMS in business

Shel Holtz has an interesting post in his blog wondering why more businesses aren't taking advantage of the SMS (that's short messaging services for wireless).

It's an interesting point, that gets even more interesting in the comments section. I really like Shel's analogy that leaving home without your mobile is like forgetting your pants! We can't get along without our phones!

I've been using a mobile in one form or another since 1991, when I took my first mobile on the road during a Saskatchewan election campaign. The silly thing was the size of an encylopedia, but what a treat to be able to contact the city desk during those never-ending bus rides. Of course, we ran up an amazing bill -- but all in all, I think it was worth it.

Now, as an independent communications professional (I really should come up with a shorter handle -- any ideas?) my mobile lets me always be available to clients, no matter where I am. It's a necessity, and I am rarely without it.

I think Shel's on to something here. And I expect to see businesses integrating the power of SMS into their business models more and more.

Question -- How many of you use SMS? I've been using it more often lately to communicate with my kids, since I discovered I can send messages free from Bell Canada's website (to other Bell wireless devices.) It's a great timesaver. What are your stories?

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Election thoughts from a recovering political addict

I'm not sure why, but I've managed to avoid commenting on the Canadian federal election to this point. For a political junkie that used to be in the mainstream news business, this seems a bit odd. But its not like I haven't been watching what's been going on. It's just that nothing quite got me motivated enough to blog about it.

I've always believed that change is good. I think governments that stay in power too long become more interested in staying in power than governing effectively. The migration from the government offices to the civil service gets to be a problem, as political types look to find more secure jobs in the departments.

At some point, it's better for everyone to let fresh faces take over, clean house and start shaking up the moribund aspects of government. I'm not convinced that one party is that much different from another, so I guess I'm ready for a change. Unfortunately, the party I'd like to see given a chance to run things doesn't look likely to play anything other than a support role. Oh well.

I certainly haven't had to worry about getting too involved personally. During the entire campaign, despite its length, I've had a grand total of one person come to my door. To his credit, it was the local NDP candidate. His literature points out with pride that he's visited every home in the consituency at least once. So if door-knocking counts for anything, he should be in good shape.

Alas, I don't think it really does. I did have a flyer from the Liberal campaign one day. It pointed out that the NDP are losers and anyone who votes for them instead of the Liberals to defeat the Tories must have rocks in their heads. Or words to that effect.

I'm not sure, but the fact that there's an NDP sign on my front lawn (the very first time in my life I've hosted a sign) might have had something to do with that pamphlet. If the goal was to get me to switch my vote, it wasn't all that effective. It was more rude than anything else. You don't inspire people by telling them they're stupid.

I think this campaign has pointed out how completely we have succumbed to the idea that what a leader says and does is critical to our vote. The news is almost entirely leader-based coverage. Even the local candidates spout messages based on the national talking points. A local candidate might be asked about local zoning issues and they'll point out that without a strong national daycare program, nothing is possible. Perhaps that's true at some level, but it certainly doesn't answer the question.

I happen to work these days in an office with a lot of Ontarians who are struggling with the idea of voting for, or at least having a government run by, the Tories. To be honest, I can't quite figure out why the NDP doesn't have more traction in Toronto. They appear to be the party that represents all the issues that Torontonians argue about so passionately. Yet the battle in that city seems to be between Tories and Liberals, with the NDP thrown in to skew the vote for one party or the other.

What is evident is how effective negative advertising is. I noticed last week that the chatter in the lunch room reflected the content of the Liberal attack ads. One woman mentioned casually that Harper will send troops anywhere George Bush wants him to. He'll also allow a vote on abortion, and end same-sex marriages. But her colleague argued the Liberals are all corrupt and deserve to be thrown out. Both sides know this because they heard it on TV. (OK, I admit this was just one overheard conversation in the lunch room. I agree that the election is not exactly the first topic of conversation most days, at least where I work.)

And while people claim to dislike negative advertising, the polling numbers appear to show that the negative ads work. As the Liberal ads continue, the lead the Tories enjoyed is slipping, thanks in large part to the swing in Ontario.

In 2004, the final negative push by the Liberals paid off on voting day. Could the same scenario come true this Monday? It doesn't look like it right now, but if we learned one thing from the last election, it's that anything is possible.

Friday, January 20, 2006

You mean "daily" is like, every day?

Who knew? Well, I did, actually. But perhaps I was a tad optimistic when I chose that name way back in April, 2004. Since then, I'm not sure I've ever managed to hit the magic post-a-day pace The Daily Upload name implies.

Perhaps the "Every-so-often Upload" would have been more appropriate, but it doesn't have the same sex appeal, you know what I mean?

I was chatting with a colleague today, who pointed out that while they were a regular reader of my musings, they tended to visit more often than I posted! Ouch!

So, loyal readers, I am once again going to make an effort to make this place a more lively spot. I know I've said that before, but that's just the way it is. Perhaps if I can commit to more posts, you'll consider adding more comments. I just don't seem to generate much excitement among my readers, apparently (except for Paul and Melanie, of course -- thanks!)

Today, I'm turning to a recurring theme here at The Daily Upload, which is the activities of my children. (If you're new here, look at the search results for Proud Papa!)

I was just looking through my previous postings and I realized that I overlooked a rather momentous event in Jaime's life, which finally occurred a few weeks ago. She finally made her first-ever leap out of an airplane!

That's her on the right, hanging on to the wing, with the countryside around Victoria, BC, spread out a few thousand feet below. And though you can't see it, she was grinning like a madwoman, she claims.

She's got other pictures as well. If you want to see more, check out her photo set on Flickr. She was very pumped up about the whole thing, and I suspect that wasn't her last jump.

I've never had the nerve to do what she did. But it was something she really wanted. She asked for the classes and the first jump as her birthday present (she turned 19 in October). But she had to wait for weeks until circumstances worked out just right. But the wait was worth it, she said. She had a grin that just wouldn't come off the whole way down!

Jaime's now settling into a new house in Victoria with a couple of other rowers. They're very excited and very much enjoying having Mom around for a couple of months.

For those who might have missed that bit of news, my wife, Heather, is living in Victoria for a couple of months, filling in for a couple of midwives out there. Then, in July, she'll be making the move out to Vancouver Island permanently. I'm going to follow her there in August, after Kelly heads off to university. Talk about a radical entry into the "empty nest!"

But that's another "Daily Upload" and this one is done.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Some more stuff about Pandora

A while back, I had a post about Pandora, a cool new music streaming service that lets you create your own radio station, tailored to the kind of music you like to listen to.

If you still haven't tried out Pandora, here's an article from Fast Company that might get you interested. It introduces us to the guys behind the Music Genome Project and some insight into why Pandor is much more than just another music matching service.

I'm still using Pandora regularly, especially at work, where the fact it runs in Flash means it doesn't get blocked by our vigilant web-blocking software. This article gives you some extra details on how to work with the software to make it even more powerful and help it to introduce you to a whole lot of music you would never have found otherwise.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Microsoft's PR Blunder

I was going to write about this major security flaw in Windows, but Shel Holtz has already done so...and I couldn't have said it better myself. So click over to Shel's blog, A Shel of my former self, to read all about it.

Just one thing to add. (This will only make sense after you've read Shel's post.) I've been following this danger since it was first discovered, via a very cool Podcast I subscribe to, called Security Now. If you haven't listened to it, you should consider it. It's an incredibly valuable collection of programs on how to safeguard your computer and your life from the bad guys out there.

Sure, it's nerdy, but I find it fascinating. And the host, Leo Laporte, and security expert Steve Gibson do a fabulous job of making all this complicated stuff interesting and compelling. I'm addicted. And they were all over this Microsoft problem long before the company said a word. See this posting on Steve's GRC website for all the details.

Update -- Late Thursday, Microsoft saw the light and released their official patch for the WMF problem. So if you're a Windows user, make sure your automatic update is working or go to Microsoft's Update site to get the fix.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Here's to 2006

Happy New Year, everyone!

This will be an interesting year for me and my family, as we enter a new chapter in our lives. We've already bid adieu to two of our flock and in June, the youngest will be finished high school.

I know some parents like to keep the family home as a base for the kids to rally back to from time to time, but Heather and I have other ideas. So by the fall, we'll both be setting up shop in Victoria, BC, a long way from our current abode. In fact, Heather left a couple of days ago for an extended stay in Victoria. She'll be working as a midwife and preparing the way for the launch of her new practice in the summer.

Over the holidays, I've been reflecting on what a home means to a family, as we've enjoyed having our family all back here again. In a perfect world, perhaps we would stay put in one place...but we won't be doing that.

Fortunately, we have our summer place at Buena Vista, just outside Regina. It's a spot I'll always keep and a great place to spend the summers. So far, we're all committed to spending time together there every summer. So no matter where we all end up, it will give us somewhere to come together fairly often.

Wherever you are, I hope the coming year unfolds the way you hope and that you and all those close to you get all the happiness you deserve.

Happy New Year!